By Bryan Hill
Bigger isn’t better. At least at first. Much like many young venue managers, I had my eyes set on the Madison Square Gardens of the world when I graduated from college. With a finance degree in hand and some part-time experience working in a venue had me ready to take on the world. I quickly learned my very first lesson about achievement; you don’t start at the top.
I took a graduate assistantship opportunity at Wagner College, a small liberal arts school located in Staten Island, NY, after graduation working in facility and event management. While I was in the same New York market shared by the likes of Madison Square Garden, the Barclays Center, and the Prudential Center, I was overseeing a gymnasium and fitness center that at its maximum capacity held about 1,200 people. It was hard for me to see how this experience was going to benefit me.
However, for a year I was constantly challenged. As a young GA I had responsibilities that many universities would give to assistant athletic directors due to the small size of the department. I worked on projects that replaced a turf field, renovated a press box, and updated the strength and conditioning room. In addition to this experience I was forced to find creative solutions to complex problems. When “just buying a new one” was out of the question, like it often was, I was challenged with figuring out the solution, oftentimes under very demanding deadlines. After a year at Wagner I was offered a position at the University of Delaware working as a facility and event manager at the Bob Carpenter Center.
Larger than the previous venue, the Bob Carpenter Center offered a 5,000-seat venue capable of producing a variety of events including athletic contests, touring shows, and university functions. As a mid-major school, there were still challenges that came along with the position both in terms of financials and personnel. I often found myself in a variety of roles that may have been separated at the larger venues and universities. This at times was overwhelming. However, I was able to understand the value that this opportunity had on my future.
As an event manager by title, I had the opportunity to work in facility maintenance, production, and parking planning operations in addition to the coordination of event details for my assigned events. I had my hand in every phase of an event while at the Bob Carpenter Center and this allowed my general understanding of event management to grow. I was able to communicate to various event stakeholders with clarity and experience due to my involvement in the various operations. This is the biggest takeaway that I have from this job as I look back on that experience.
I have since been fortunate enough to be given an opportunity to work as the event manager at the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State University and have found the experiences gathered while at smaller venues and institutions to really prepare me well. While the shows may be different, the skills required to be successful are similar. Having the broad understanding of all elements of a venue and event really allow my communications to be more effective in my new role. While I may be more focused on certain elements in my new role, I will always appreciate the opportunities I have had. It is not the size of the venue that matters as much as the size of the opportunity, especially early in your career.
Just remember, bigger isn’t always better. Start small, work hard, and the big opportunities will find their way to your doorstep.
Bryan Hill is the event manager of the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State University.